Home WorldMiddle East Saudi prince visits Turkey for the first time since Khashoggi’s murder

Saudi prince visits Turkey for the first time since Khashoggi’s murder

by YAR

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince visited Turkey on Wednesday for the first time since Saudi agents assassinated prominent dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018, driving a deep wedge between the two regional powers.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Prince Mohammed bin Salman has met with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish capital Ankara, in another step toward mending barriers between two Middle Eastern heavyweights. whose rivalry has developed into conflicts from Libya and Egypt to the Persian Empire. Gulf.

In a joint statement following the talks, the two countries said they were determined to enter a “new period of cooperation,” adding that the talks reflected “the depth of perfect relations” between them.

An equestrian unit escorted Prince Mohammed to the main gate of the presidential palace, where the two leaders greeted each other with a handshake and a kiss on each cheek before posing for photographers, a video of the welcoming ceremony released by the Turkish government.

Erdogan had already moved to recalibrate relations with a visit to Saudi Arabia in April, when he publicly embraced Prince Mohammed and announced what he called a “new period of cooperation” between their countries.

Crippled by rising domestic inflation, Erdogan has been courting regional leaders to boost Turkey’s economy ahead of next year’s presidential election. The joint statement after the meeting said the two leaders had discussed trade facilitation and cooperation in fields including energy and artificial intelligence. Turkey has invited Saudi investment funds to invest in Turkish startups, he said.

Confirming the visit last week, Erdogan said he hoped his meeting with Prince Mohammed would present an opportunity to take relations to a higher level.

“These are two heavyweight fighters who can hit each other pretty hard, but no one is going to win by knockout,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“This recalibration, in a way, is not surprising because you have Saudi Arabia, which is recovering right now, geopolitically and economically, and you have Turkey, which is still in a corner, especially economically, but it cannot be ignored,” he added. .

The rapprochement follows similar moves by other countries to rebuild ties with Saudi Arabia, which have sparked global outrage over the grisly murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia.

A 2018 assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that Prince Mohammed had approved and ordered the strike team that killed and dismembered Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. The columnist had gone there to collect some documents he needed to marry his fiancée.

But Prince Mohammed, 36, has denied supervising the operation or having prior knowledge of it.

The killing quickly severed ties between the two countries, already strained by a Saudi-led blockade against Qatar, an ally of Turkey.

The Turkish government angered Saudi Arabia when it opened a vigorous investigation into Khashoggi’s murder and reported lurid details of the case to the international media, slowly leaking them over time to increasing levels of international outrage. Erdogan said the order to dismember Khashoggi came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government, but stopped short of directly accusing the prince.

However, with Turkey facing pressing economic difficulties at home, Erdogan opened the door to better relations with Saudi Arabia in April when he backed the transfer of Khashoggi’s murder trial to Saudi Arabia and traveled to the Persian Gulf kingdom for the first time. since the murder.

The meeting in Turkey is a stop for Prince Mohammed on a tour in which he will meet leaders of countries in the region, including Jordan and Egypt, and seek to end a period of international isolation.

During an earlier stopover in Egypt billed as an opportunity for the prince and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to discuss regional cooperation, the prince signed 14 investment deals worth $7.7 billion in industries including technology, energy, food, pharmaceuticals and media.

Wednesday’s visit to Turkey comes shortly before Prince Mohammed is due to meet in the Saudi capital Riyadh with President Biden, who has vowed as a candidate to make the kingdom a “pariah” over Khashoggi’s murder.

But Biden, who announced a ban on Russian oil and natural gas in response to Moscow’s decision to invade Ukraine, has since worked to rebuild relations with Saudi Arabia as he seeks an increase in the kingdom’s oil output to stabilize rising gas prices.

“Saudi Arabia’s economic fortunes have increased because oil prices are rising and countries around the world no longer freeze the country,” Hokayem said. “It is a time for Saudi Arabia to display its influence in a less brazen way.”

Erdogan’s thawing of relations with Saudi Arabia has drawn criticism from political opponents and human rights activists in the country, who have denounced the rapprochement as a moral surrender. Last week, the Turkish government announced that it had dropped all charges against suspects in Khashoggi’s case, according to a court verdict reviewed by The Times.

Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée at the time of his death, said on Twitter that “the political legitimacy” Prince Mohammed had gained through his recent meetings with world leaders would not “change the fact that he is a murderer.”

The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, denounced the visit in a televised statement to members of the Turkish Parliament on Tuesday.

“You are ruining Turkey’s reputation,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the opposition leader, directing the comment at Erdogan. “The leader of the Republic of Turkey will embrace the man who ordered the assassination.”

Mr. Erdogan’s motivations are largely economic. Turkey depends on Russia for much of its natural gas. The president warned that the economy, which has been hit by the worst inflation in two decades, above 70 percent, would suffer even more severely if it cut off energy imports from Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, like the other United States. Allies have done.

Saudi Arabia and Russia are among the world’s top oil producers, so Turkey cannot afford to disagree with either.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have long vied for dominance over the Sunni Muslim countries of the Middle East.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement with a large following. The Saudis consider the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

The Arab Spring uprisings that swept through the Middle East a decade ago helped establish the Brotherhood as an organized political force in countries like Egypt.

The Saudi government tried to subvert the uprisings, which it saw as a direct threat to its dominance in the region. Turkey has aligned itself with Qatar in backing populist movements and Islamist groups.

“There is rivalry and mistrust, but these are two cynical and almost autocratic leaders operating under similar rules,” Hokayem said.

While Prince Mohammed will never forget that his Turkish counterpart opened the Khashoggi death case, he acknowledges that Erdogan ultimately paved the way for the repatriation of relations by transferring the case to Saudi authorities, Hokayem said.

“It’s not going to be love and friendship forever, but it’s an improvement over what was going on in the last five to 10 years,” he said.

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